After receiving open records requests regarding last month’s controversial decision to remove certain cases from a North Texas judge, Tarrant County commissioners have appealed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to keep the records hidden. Gary Fickes was the only member of the commissioners court to respond to questions regarding the county’s position on Judge Alex Kim.
Last month, the Tarrant Board of District Judges met and voted to remove all cases involving Child Protective Services (CPS) from the 323rd District Court of Judge Alex Kim.
The meeting—originally to be open to the public—was moved behind closed doors, out of view of the voters.
A transcript of the meeting revealed Judge James Munford of the 322nd District Court and Judge Chris Wolfe of the 213th District Court were the only ones to vote alongside Kim against removing all CPS cases from his court.
Judges Ruben Gonzalez, Elizabeth Beach, Don Cosby, Josh Burgess, and Megan Fahey did not attend the meeting.
The rest of the judges sided against Kim and the voters who had hired him to handle the majority of the county’s CPS cases.
Why the decision? Sources claimed Local Administrative Judge David L. Evans of the 48th District Court—under the influence of CPS, Cook Children’s Medical Center, and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Tarrant County—was targeting Kim for being unbiased and making CPS follow the law. They alleged his signing a last-minute injunction saving a baby’s life was the last straw.
On page 32 of the meeting transcript, Evans said, “The county […] wants to do this.”
Texas Scorecard sent a series of open records requests to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court requesting all emails and text messages between the commissioners and the following parties:
- Don Binnicker, CEO of CASA of Tarrant County
- Judge David L. Evans
- Child Protective Services
- All judges and staff of the 323rd, 231st, and 360th District Courts
We specifically sought emails and text messages containing keywords such as “Alex Kim,” “Child Protective Services,” and Kim’s 2018 Democratic opponent “James Teel.”
There are multiple photos of Teel campaigning at a CASA Tarrant event—and photos with Binnicker—a few months before Kim defeated him in the 2018 election. Binnicker has publicly attacked Kim and bemoaned the change in his organization’s relationship with the 323rd District Court since Kim’s election. Binnicker also wrote in an internal email, “It is very likely that in the next coming days, you will see or hear news stories related to this situation and CASA’s general relationship with the 323rd Court.”
On March 12, in response to our open record requests, the county appealed to Paxton, writing that they believe “a portion of the information sought may be exempt from public disclosure.”
That same day, Texas Scorecard sent questions to the commissioners court relating to Evans’ statement on page 32 of the transcript that “[t]he county […] wants to do this.” We asked the commissioners why they thought removing CPS cases from Kim’s court was justified, if they had voted on the decision, and if they were all in agreement.
Only Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes—who is facing re-election this year—replied.
“I have not seen the mentioned transcript and have not had any discussions with any judge. I am not aware of this issue being an agenda item for action or discussion.”
In the transcript, Evans said removing CPS cases from Judge Kim was “in the best interest of the system” and the “stakeholders.” He also added moving these cases would be “cost-efficient and promote consistency.”
Concerned Tarrant County voters may contact their commissioners and county judge.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Brooks: 817-370-4500; firstname.lastname@example.org
Precinct 2 Commissioner Devan Allen: 817-248-6099; email@example.com
Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes: 817-248-6295; firstname.lastname@example.org
Precinct 4 Commissioner J.D. Johnson: 817-238-4400; email@example.com
County Judge Glen Whitley: 817-884-1441; firstname.lastname@example.org